Syrian internally displaced people (IDPs) who found refuge in makeshift camps in Aleppo’s countryside have been badly affected by heavy rainfall with the start of winter, losing all their belongings and tents.
The areas under the control of the Free Syrian Army in northern Aleppo countryside witnessed between Dec. 16 and Dec. 24 heavy rainfall that led to floods and torrents. The tents of many internally displaced persons (IDPs) were destroyed in camps near Azaz in Aleppo’s northern countryside. The rainstorm left hundreds of families homeless in the absence of any help from humanitarian organizations.
Al-Monitor toured Bab al-Salam camp in northern Azaz, where the rainfall caused floods in large parts of the camp. Tents that survived the floods were no longer habitable, however, forcing a large number of camp residents to either sleep out in the open or at relatives’ houses in Azaz and nearby villages.
Children’s playgrounds turned into pools of mud, and instead of playing outdoors the children helped their mothers clean mattresses, blankets and cooking utensils soaked with water and mud. On the southern end of the camp, a group of women helped an elderly neighbor who lives alone in her tent.
Bab al-Salam camp, home to a large number of IDPs (no official statistics are available on their exact number), is not the only one that was flooded in the area. Many camps that were set up for IDPs near Azaz close to the Syrian-Turkish border faced the same fate, including al-Shuhada, al-Rayan, al-Nour, al-Iman, al-Qatari, Sajou, Ehtimilat, Dabek, al-Bal, Shamarekh, Shamarin, al-Rahma, al-Mokawama, Yazi Bagh, al-Risala, Kaer Kalbein, al-Sawameh and Deir Ballout camp.
At least 25,000 families live in these camps (as per local statistics) and more tents for the displaced are spread across the prairies in Aleppo’s countryside. Hence, thousands suffered due to the floods in the camps scattered among the olive groves in Azaz countryside.
The manager of Bab al-Salam camp, Abd Salam Hafez, told Al-Monitor, “We could not really limit the impact of this catastrophe. The rainfall that went on for days destroyed most tents. We distributed plastic covers to prevent rain leakage into the tents, but that did not reduce the suffering of families. Water is surrounding tents from all sides.”
He added, “We hope humanitarian organizations and charities operating in the region will meet the needs of the camp residents. Many families have lost their belongings due to the torrents. Others need covers and winter clothes for their children. Temperatures are very low and the rain has not given camp residents a chance to fix the damage.”
Abdul Karim Ibrahim has been living in Bab al-Salam camp since 2016. He told Al-Monitor, “The heavy rainfall flooded our tent. My family and I had to move into my friend’s place for three days due to the rainfall. He lives in Azaz. We lost most of our belongings — from covers to furniture and home appliances. We need a chance to fix what was damaged and make the tent habitable again. Unfortunately no organization has offered us support to fix what the floods have ruined.”
Al-Rayan camp manager Ahmed Walid told Al-Monitor, “Camps including al-Rayan near Azaz in Aleppo’s northern countryside are not well-equipped to reduce risk of flooding. There are no drainage systems in the camps and the soil is muddy. When it rains the camps turn into swamps and water seeps into the tents making them unlivable for families. We offered rain shields to be placed on top of the tents and prevent water from entering them. But this did not stop the problem. Many families are suffering and living under deplorable circumstances.”
Maha Nabaa, a mother of seven, lost her husband in a regime air raid in late 2016 in Aleppo’s eastern neighborhood, shortly before the armed opposition left Aleppo.
Nabaa, who lives in al-Rayan camp, told Al-Monitor, “Words are not enough to describe our suffering. My children and I have been here for two years now. We are living tough times being displaced [under these conditions]. The heavy rainfall and torrents destroyed our few belongings. Tents are no longer habitable and the floods destroyed my children’s clothes. I do not have relatives or parents living nearby or in Aleppo’s countryside. I can only wait for the rain to stop so that my kids and I can fix the tent.”
Even if the tents can be repaired, the camp residents would still face a tough time. These camps need paved roads and proper drainage systems to deal with the rain and flooding. Unfortunately, the calls of camp managers to nongovernmental organizations to provide the necessary aid are falling on deaf ears.